Lisa Storm Villadsen, Copenhagen University
Official apologies – statements issued by an official on behalf of a public collective (such as a nation, state or a government) to apologize for wrongful deeds done in the past – seem to make up a genre on the rise in the US and worldwide. Brooks calls our time “the Age of Apology” and claims that it is not just a fad or a result of sanctioned sentimentality (3). In fact, Brooks regards the official apology as a constructive gesture that combines guilt and sorrow and makes atonement and national rebirth possible. But in some cultural contexts, official apologias are also occasionally regarded with skepticism as a disingenuous measure serving purposes of political correctness, distraction, or other particular political agendas. The official apology thus raises both pragmatic and theoretical questions.
Lisa Storm Villadsen (2011) remarks
By twists and turns, this essay developed from my interest in epideictic rhetoric, particularly the possibility of one person to speak on behalf of a group on common values. Attending the 2003 ARS Conference brought the concept of rhetorical agency to my attention, and when I came across Rasmussen’s speech, it hit me that here was a project that would allow me to bring together two of the main themes of this article: epideictic rhetoric and rhetorical agency. Increasingly, the apology nested in the more predictable epideictic sections of the speech struck me as both theoretically and critically interesting. Theoretically, the prime minister’s apology makes salient questions about the nature of rhetorical agency. As a critic, the speech challenged me to think about how to assess a rhetorical performance that formally seemed impeccable, yet somehow didn’t ring true. If I were to rewrite the piece today, I might develop the connection between questions of ethos and rhetorical agency more. However, as it stands, the article suggests the relevance of the concept of rhetorical agency in rhetorical criticism as a more comprehensive perspective on issues of mandate and the nature of an epideictic speaking position.
An earlier version of the article, titled ”Can the mistakes of the past be excused?”, was published in Rhetorica Scandinavica in 2005.
About this article
- Part of: Scandinavian Studies in Rhetoric. Rhetorica Scandinavica 1997-2010, Kjeldsen & Grue (eds.), Retorikförlaget Publishers 2011.
- Article pp 290–307
- Original Danish: “Kan man undskylde fortidens fejltrin?“, Rhetorica Scandinavica 36 (2005).
- This essay is an expanded and significantly revised version of a paper presented at the 2006 RSA conference in Memphis and published in the proceedings volume, “Sizing Up Rhetoric” (Waveland Press, Inc., 2008).
- This article was previously published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly: Villadsen, Lisa Storm. “Speaking on Behalf of Others: Rhetorical Agency and Epideictic Functions in Official Apologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 38.1 (2008): 25-45. Reprinted by permission of the publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd (http://www.informaworld.com)
About Lisa Storm Villadsen
Lisa Storm Villadsen is Associate Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Copenhagen. As a rhetorical critic, her research interests revolve around issues in modern rhetorical theory such as rhetorical citizenship, agency, and genre.